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What To Expect From West Ham’s 2018/2019 Season

With the preseason now closed and the regular season fast approaching, what can we expect from West Ham United in this upcoming Premier League season? Well, let’s break down the past season and the offseason to better understand the recent history of the team.

Stadium Woes

West Ham began their 2016/2017 season in a new home. The Boleyn Ground at Upton Park had been the team’s home for over a century, however, the ownership board of the team decided with the Hammers were going to become a big club, thus needed a suitable home. Enter the London Stadium, the biggest nemesis to the team’s success in this past season, according to the fans. The team never looked settled, and the fans were pushed so far back from the pitch that the intimidating atmosphere that home games were was now lost. The team managed to turn that feeling around somewhat by the end of the season, however, the lackluster play throughout the year did not help the cause. And that is the simple remedy to this issue. The team underperformed; the fans had few good home games and reason to rally behind their team.

This season should benefit from improved stewards and a resettling of season ticket holders, however, the first four games of the season are away games due to athletics at the stadium. Many hold hard feelings about this as they have to wait to see their team at home, and because the fans were reassured by board member Karen Brady that the team and all of its matches would take priority over other events. It would seem West Ham are already continuing the rocky relationship with their stadium even before the season officially begins.

Snake in the Grass

Calling the London stadium the biggest antagonist to West Ham succeeding seems a bit ridiculous when you consider the Dimitri Payet Saga that unfolded this past season. West Ham’s most dynamic attacker and most prolific offensive spark decided to abandon the team midseason for a switch back to France. Marseille had West Ham in a tough spot, manager Slaven Bilic did not want him to leave, captain Mark Noble tried to encourage him to stay, but in the end, Payet forced through a move back to France. Now, Payet had multiple stories and reasons behind why he wanted to leave. He first said he wanted to be closer to his family, which is understandable, however, once he was moved to Marseille Payet started commenting on the team’s training regime, and the lack of ambition in the club. It is a sore spot for many fans, however, he is now gone. Despite his terrific play for the team, he has soured any sort of nostalgia West Ham fans might have had for him.

Free Transfers

Technically, there is only one free transfer this offseason (so far) with the addition of Pablo Zabaleta, but we will include the Joe Hart loan deal here as well. West Ham acted fast in resolving their right back issue by confirming the signing of veteran Manchester City and Argentine international Pablo Zabaleta before the transfer window opened. Cemented on July 1, Zabaleta immediately adds more legitimacy to West Ham’s back line. In the preseason, he has been vocal in training and matches and is constantly in communication with his keeper, fellow defenders, and his right side forwards. Zabaleta adds more leadership to West Ham which it direly needed on the back end. He has incredible work ethic and does not settle for less than perfection on the field. He is also the perfect mentor to young right back Sam Byram who would do well to absorb as much as he can off the veteran.

The loan spell from Joe Hart is interesting on many levels. It appears to be a symbiotic relationship between player and club; Hart needs to reassert himself in the Premier League ahead of the World Cup, and West Ham needs a certified number one keeper. Hart was loaned from Manchester City without an option to buy, after returning from playing for Torino in the Italian Serie A. Hart’s form struggled in Italy, however, he as is motivated as ever to show why he is England’s top choice at keeper. Hart’s arrival saw the end of Darren Randolph at the club. The Irish international was called upon last season and had some good play, however, the upgrade to Hart, even on a loan deal, is remarkable for the club.

Transfers In

West Ham has turned heads this offseason with their paid transfers in, none bigger that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. In dire need for an elite striker, West Ham played it cool and quiet in their pursuit of the former Manchester United striker and was able to snatch him up for £16 million –a steal of a deal. Chicharito has proven success in the Premier League and in the few preseason games he has featured in, has changed the pace of the game. He is dangerous from all areas and is an absolute thrilling buy for the club and its supporters.

West Ham ended up on the opposite side of a player demanding out of their contract and team, as Stoke City winger Marko Arnautovic chose West Ham as his desired team and would not settle until he was moved. West Ham paid around £25 million for Arnautovic, making him the club record transfer fee. On the pitch, he has shown that he is a physical beast, and dangerous when attacking. He adds a bit more grit and intimidation to the lineup, and his ability to link up with Chicharito and Lanzini could prove to be overwhelming for opposing defenders.

The latest signing is an interesting one, as West Ham has snatched up 18-year-old wonder-kid, Sead Haksabanovic. The young attacking midfielder was monitored by Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and other top clubs, however, a £3 million fee saw him agree to join West Ham. Realistically, he would have been sent to the academy or out on loan from most other teams interested, where as with West Ham he should get regular time with the first team. Coming from Halmstads BK in Sweden, Haksabanovic is an impressive dribbler, creative play maker, and shows signs of being an elite finisher as well. He is an intriguing option for now and an investment in the future for the club as well.

Give Youth a Change

Manager Slaven Bilic has not let his expiring contract dampen his views on the impressive youth moving their way through the team’s academy. Promising not-so-youngster Josh Cullen was loaned out alongside young defender Reece Burke to Championship team Bolton. Cullen was poised to make the first team, however, Bilic has opted to look for established quality for the midfield, and allow Cullen to grow further in the Championship.

Two young players seemed to have cracked the first team squad. Both central defender Declan Rice and striker Toni Martinez have been informed they will have a crack at the first team this year. With Chicharito as the team’s first choice striker, and Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll on the mend from career-long injuries, Martinez looks poised to snatch up some meaningful minutes this season to prove himself.

Rice impressed throughout the entire preseason as both a center back and as a defensive midfielder. He played himself into a position where Bilic could not ignore his abilities and his readiness for a Premier League season. He shows maturity beyond his age and should feature early as a late game substitution and cup team member.

So What’s Next?

West Ham has set themselves up for success now and invested in youth for the future. Bilic has kept up his vision of investing in his current team by adding proven, quality players, and this trend seems to be continuing with the rumors surrounding West Ham signing Brentford midfielder Jota and Sporting Lisbon star defensive midfielder William Carvalho. A curve ball in West Ham’s plans lies in the hands of Liverpool who are under immense pressure to move their star playmaker Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, as Paris Saint-Germain shattered the world record transfer fee for Barca star Neymar. If Liverpool lures Lanzini away, West Ham would need to immediately spend money on a replacement. Ross Barkley is still seeking a move and could be a potential replacement, however, the loss of Lanzini would deflate a historically strong offseason for West Ham.

What we can expect this season is a team that is more ready than ever to grasp the high expectations that the fans have for their team. The aim is European football for this season, however, many teams and players around the league have noted the moves and how they will prepare for the East London team appropriately.

This season West Ham will finish 7th in the table, and only a few points out of  Champions League position. This seems lofty, however, Tottenham looks like they will take a step back from their previous season’s success as they have sold their star wingback and not brought in any impact players. If Liverpool loses Coutinho to Barcelona they will have a large hole to fill in their attack, and if Lanzini remains loyal to West Ham, that hole should deflate Liverpool’s season hopes. Likewise, Everton, who have spent a fair amount of money this season, have a drastic hole in their striker position after losing Lukaku to Manchester United.

The expectations are high, but finally, the club has brought in players who have the ability to reach and exceed those expectations. With the season on the horizon, we will see just how good this new look West Ham squad is.

Adam Smith
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Adam Smith

West Ham United Writer at The Runner Sports
Proud supporter of the Claret and Blue, West Ham United!
Actively interested in transfer news, match reports, developing story lines, and all things West Ham United!
Adam Smith
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